Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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Celebrating The Lord's Supper

Through an examination of Scripture and from some very useful help by John Calvin, I would like to explain why there is great value for the church to celebrate the Lord's Supper weekly. I will be drawing on Calvin's view of the Lord's Supper found in "Calvin's Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord." All of the quotes will come directly from that writing unless otherwise noted.

John Calvin asserts three purposes for the institution of the Lord's Supper.

"Our Lord, therefore, instituted the Supper, first, in order to sign and seal in our consciences the promises contained in his gospel concerning our being made partakers of his body and blood, and to give us certainty and assurance that therein lies our true spiritual nourishment, and that having such an earnest, we may entertain a right reliance on salvation.

The second benefit of the Supper is, that it admonishes and incites us more strongly to recognize the blessings which we have received, and receive daily from the Lord.

The third advantage of the Sacrament consists in furnishing a most powerful incitement to live holy, and especially observe charity and brotherly love toward all."

I want to examine these three reasons more closely.

The first reason for the institution of the Lord's Supper is to give us assurance and certainty in the grace of the Gospel. In essence, The Lord's Supper fortifies our faith. It helps in delivering us from doubt and uncertainty. It visibly signifies and expresses the spiritual union that we have with Christ. According to Calvin,

"the singular consolation which we derive from the Supper. It directs and leads us to the cross of Jesus Christ and to his resurrection, to certify us that whatever iniquity there may be in us, the Lord nevertheless recognizes and accepts us as righteous-whatever materials of death may be in us, he nevertheless gives us life-whatever misery may be in us, he nevertheless fills us with all felicity. Or to explain the matter more simply-as in ourselves we are devoid of all good, and have not one particle of what might help to procure salvation, the Supper is an attestation that, having been made partakers of the death and passion of Jesus Christ, we have every thing that is useful and salutary to us."
Through the Lord's Supper we take and enjoy the promises of our salvation. The promises that remind us that we are His children. They also remind us that we have His righteousness and forgiveness of sins. Also taking part in the Lord's Supper, reminds us of the Gospel of grace. It allows us to enjoy and reflect on the cross of Christ and how it now applies in our ongoing, daily sanctification. According to Calvin, the Lord's Supper takes the complex and makes it simple to us. It is the Lord accommodating the somewhat incomprehensible mysteries of our union with Christ to our small, finite minds.

In the Institutes, Calvin phrases it this way,
"But as this mystery of the secret union of Christ with believers is incomprehensible by nature, he exhibits its figure and image in visible signs adapted to our capacity, nay, by giving, as it were, earnests and badges, he makes it as certain to us as if it were seen by the eye; the familiarity of the similitude giving it access to minds however dull, and showing that souls are fed by Christ just as the corporeal life is sustained by bread and wine."
The second benefit and reason for the institution of the Lord's supper, according to John Calvin, is
"that it admonishes and incites us more strongly to recognize the blessings which we have received, and receive daily from the Lord Jesus, in order that we may ascribe to him the praise which is due. For in ourselves we are so negligent that we rarely think of the goodness of God, if he do not arouse us from our indolence, and urge us to our duty. Now there cannot be a spur which can pierce us more to the quick than when he makes us, so to speak, see with the eye, touch with the hand, and distinctly perceive this inestimable blessing of feeding on his own substance. This he means to intimate when he commands us to show forth his death till he come. (1 Cor 11:26.) If it is then so essential to salvation not to overlook the gifts which God has given us, but diligently to keep them in mind, and extol them to others for mutual edification; we see another singular advantage of the Supper in this, that it draws us off from ingratitude, and allows us not to forget the benefit which our Lord Jesus bestowed upon us in dying for us, but induces us to render him thanks, and, as it were, publicly protest how much we are indebted to him."
We have been bought with a price, a very precious price. The price was the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We belong to Christ. Our lives are not our own. As Paul states in Romans 6, we are no longer slaves to sin. We need not consider sin our master. But rather, we are slaves to righteousness. Jesus Christ is our Lord and master. We are without reservation, His. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper reminds us of this.

The third advantage and benefit of the sacrament consists in:
"furnishing a most powerful incitement to live holy, and especially observe charity and brotherly love toward all. For seeing we have been made members of Jesus Christ, being incorporated into him, and united with him as our head, it is most reasonable that we should become conformable to him in purity and innocence, and especially that we should cultivate charity and concord together as becomes members of the same body. But to understand this advantage properly, we must not suppose that our Lord warns, incites, and inflames our hearts by the external sign merely; for the principal point is, that he operates in us inwardly by his Holy Spirit, in order to give efficacy to his ordinance, which he has destined for that purpose, as an instrument by which he wishes to do his work in us. Wherefore, inasmuch as the virtue of the Holy Spirit is conjoined with the sacraments when we duly receive them, we have reason to hope they will prove a good mean and aid to make us grow and advance in holiness of life, and specially in charity."
Through the sacrament we recognize that we are reconciled to God and therefore we are prompted to obedience toward our loving redeemer. Not only are we reconciled to God but also we can and should be reconciled to one another. Therefore our obedience leads us not only to obey and love God, but also to love our neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ.

Next time, I will talk about the issue of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper.